David Monacchi: “Fragments of Extinction”, the sounds of vanishing nature

With the prospect of mass extinction in the news, it seems a good time to reflect on the loss of soundscapes. In Ireland, the corncrake and the curlew were once the background sounds of daily life; now they are nearly vanished.

I have posted before about nature recording artists such as Gordon Hempton and Chris Watson who have captured soundscapes in the natural world that one hopes will not vanish altogether. I came across David Monacchi and his Fragments of Extinction project.

Monacchi records (and streams) soundscapes from the dwindling number of intact, untouched forests around the world. What makes his work especially compelling is the clarity with which he illustrates how these ecosystems have a panoply of harmonious acoustic niches, across species and genera. The best way to get a sense is this short video:



“What is Beauty?” considered in Dungloe courthouse

An interesting tale from the Donegal courts. A vet who set up a clinic in Bunbeg was denied certification by the veterinary authorities as the word “beauty” was in the clinic’s proposed name. Dungloe District Court evidently had jurisdiction:

The title of the practice is Animal Beauty and Care Clinic, but the VCI said the term beauty could be equated with some unacceptable cosmetic surgery taking place in the practice to modify an animal’s appearance, the court heard.

Mr Podiaru appealed the decision at Dungloe District Court against The Veterinary Council of Ireland, 53 Lansdowne Road, Dublin. His counsel Dean Regan said it was a case that centred on the definition of the word “beauty”.

Mr Regan said the VCI was suggesting that the word beauty meant trying to modify an animal’s appearance and was unethical. He said it was unreasonable to suggest that beauty was linked with some sort of mutilation of an animal.

Counsel for the VCI Hugh McDowell said that for the appeal to succeed it must be shown that the VCI erred in law or acted unreasonably.

President of the VCI Peadar O’Scannail told the court that “if ever a blade was taken to an animal to beautify it, that is a red line for the Veterinary Council”.

He said there were cases of dogs having their tails cut for cosmetic reasons and that was not allowed.

Mr O’Scannail said there was a danger that the public might draw an inference that something untoward was happening at the practice.

Obviously legal argument ensued to ensure nothing untoward would trouble the sensibilities of Gweedore folk:

Judge Paul Kelly read from some veterinary practices which provided for dog grooming. Among the services were “nail clipping” “paint on highlights” and “anal gland expressing”.

The judge wondered what was the difference between dog-grooming and beauty?

At one stage the Oxford Dictionary was produced, and the definition of beauty read out in court.

In a rather Solomon like decision, Judge Kelly found for Mr Polidaru but didn’t award costs as he could have engaged more with the VCI earlier. But that would have denied us the legal speculation on the nature of beauty outlined above.

Otters of the River Suir

Until a few years ago, otters and badgers were the only members of Ireland’s admittedly not that extensive land mammal fauna which I had not seen (let’s not get into bats for a bit). Now, while I have yet to see a non-roadkill badger, I have had the pleasure of repeatedly seeing otters on various locations along the River Suir.

My usual spot is a little past the riverside carpark by the Moangarrif roundabout (walking downriver). Here was my first otter sighting, of a group of five or six one evening. Since then I have felt that most sightings of “lake monsters” must surely be due to otters, with their serpentine, elegant motions in the water and some surprising configurations of a group.

Since I have fairly regularly seen otters there, and also at Kilsheelan and in Carrick-on-Suir (at the old bridge). The closest up was a lunchtime otter at Cahir Castle car park, which sauntered out of the water and into undergrowth a few metres away.

A while back, along with a little helper, I essayed an explanation of how otters could have been mistaken for the Loch Ness Monster:

I actually haven’t seen this Clonmel-based otter:


From “The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names” by John Wright


It may sound extraordinary, but until recently the shrew had a most fearsome reputation. The creature’s bite was likened to that of a spider – araneus in Latin. Both Aristotle and Pliny wrote of its venomous nature, and this belief continued down the centuries, gaining momentum as time went by.


The general feeling was summed up neatly by the Reverend Topsell in his seventeenth-century History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents: ‘It is a ravening beast, feigning itself gentle and tame, but, being touched, it biteth deep, and poisoneth deadly. It beareth a cruel minde, desiring to hurt anything, neither is there any creature that it loveth, or it loveth him, because it is feared of all.’

Not that an actual bite was considered necessary for the shrew to do its evil work. Elyot in 1538 wrote: ‘Mus Araneus, a kynde of myse called a shrew, whyche yf it goo ouer a beastes backe, he shall be lame in the chyne’. ‘Chyne’ here means ‘spine’, so it would have been a calamity if it were true, which, of course, it was not. Horses were considered particularly vulnerable, but it was not just dumb beasts that were at risk.

Although there is much to be feared in the modern world, one threat at least is no longer a burden, and anyone attending the doctor’s surgery complaining of being ‘shrewstruck’ would not be received sympathetically. This fictitious condition was the result of having a shrew ‘goo ouer’ some part of your body, causing pain and even paralysis. Fortunately such imaginary ailments respond well to imaginary remedies.

Gilbert White in The Natural History of Selborne reported the destruction by a pious vicar of a much-venerated ash tree. The tree – a ‘shrew ash’ – was relied upon as a cure by the village people, who pleaded in vain for its survival. To make such a tree, a hole was drilled into the trunk, then a live (and very unlucky) shrew was placed into the hole and incarcerated there with a wooden plug, to the accompaniment of appropriately dramatic incantations (sadly lost to history). The branches were then available to be ‘applied’ as a cure, although precisely what this entailed is not recorded. With so many fine details forgotten, should you ever imagine that you have been ‘shrewstruck’, you will be in no position to imagine that you are cured.

A Whale Burial in Magheraroarty, Donegal, March 2007

One day in March (I think) 2007 I was walking along the beach at Magheraroarty when I came across a large crowd watching two diggers preparing a sandy grave for a beached whale. I had a portable camera, as one did in 2007. I am unsure what species it was. I hope this one didn’t have the fate of a 2015 juvenile sperm whale stranding.




Sadly this not exactly unknown on this coast:




More positively: